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The war on drugs: Ambushed in Jamundí

Why the massacre of an elite US-trained Colombian police team prompted Congress to freeze drug-war funding.

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Arcesio Morales Buitrago is in charge of the keys at Mi Casita. A soft-spoken man diagnosed as schizophrenic, he is the doyen of the patients at the leafy psychiatric home.

On May 22, right after the Monday afternoon bingo game, three cars skidded to a halt on the road that dead ends at Mi Casita. Ten men in blue jeans and police vests and one man in a ski mask piled out.

"Judicial police! Open up!" they shouted.

Mr. Morales, as the one responsible for the keys, hurried down the path to comply.

As he reached the green iron gate, however, Sergio Berrio, the administrator of the home, leaned out from the balcony above and screeched: "Stay back! Don't open!"

Morales froze. That's when the shooting started: a torrent of bullets and grenades rained down on the police from the nearby forest. "The war came here," Morales recalls incredulously, "...all the way here."

What followed in the next 45 minutes was the calculated massacre of one of Colombia's best counternarcotics police teams – all hand-picked and trained by the US. None survived.

This is a story of those policemen – of the members of Colombia's military that killed them – and of the narcotraffickers that, according to Colombia's attorney general, ordered the hit.

The investigation of the Jamundí massacre to date suggests the reach that Colombia's drug lords maintain today, and has shaken officials in Washington and Bogotá. The US Congress has temporarily frozen funding for Plan Colombia, the $4.7 billion effort to stop the illicit drug trade – and a chorus of disappointed and angry voices in both capitals is demanding an honest evaluation of the US' most expensive foreign aid program outside of the Middle East, six years after it set out to win the war on drugs.

* * *

"Three thousand Americans a year die from Colombian drugs," says US Ambassador to Colombia William Wood. "That's like suffering a World Trade Towers attack every year."


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